Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Deborah A. Thomas


This dissertation tracks the mobilization of Yucatec Maya culture and identity across Yucatán, Mexico and San Francisco, California. Moving within a circulating discourse pertaining to a crisis of culture loss, I pause at three distinct sites to explore how "culture" is deployed for recognition in national and transnational spaces. I focus on Tuch Mukuy, a 17-member community theater troupe in Oxkutzcab, Yucatán; U Najil Xook, a one-member NGO dedicated to Mayan language preservation; and Alianza del Pueblo Maya, an NGO formed by the members of the Yucatec Maya migrant community in San Francisco to represent their interests and provide for their needs.

I explore the efforts of Tuch Mukuy, U Najil Xook, and Alianza del Pueblo Maya to position themselves to be seen as Maya or indigenous by state and non-state actors across shifting fields of power and authority in Mexico and the United States. I examine the ways in which the space of the nation forecloses certain mobilizations of culture and cultural identity, while the space of the transnational open up possibilities for alternative visions and mobilizations of culture and identity.

Within Yucatán, the space of the national, Tuch Mukuy and U Najil Xook are trapped into particular configurations of culture that will always be past-oriented. In Mexico, claims for rights and recognition are made to the nation-state based upon a history of marginalization and state-sponsored cultural assimilationist programs. Maya culture becomes framed, necessarily, through terms of revitalization and preservation, and packaged in the tangible and intangible forms of that which can be saved--such as, language, dress, and traditional practices, and knowledge entailed therein. This past-orientation renders claims to Mayaness as always under the impossible scrutiny of authenticity.

In San Francisco, the space of the transnational, Alianza del Pueblo Maya becomes untethered from the future anterior temporality characteristic of recognition claims within the Mexican nation-state. In a city saturated with civil society organizations dedicated the rights of a range of politicized identities situated in race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture, and nation, Alianza must rely on a combination of strategies and alliances to become culturally recognized, but also politically and economically addressed. Coalition, not culture, becomes the space through which claims of recognition are made.